When I graduated high school I figured I’d spent enough time sitting at a desk. I thought about everything I’d learned in school and out, and figured that my most salable skill was painting houses. I was living in L.A., which made house painting possible year-round, unlike Michigan, where one of my cousins lived, where winter shuts down the world.
I got a truck, a ladder, brushes, got cards printed, gave them to my friends’ parents. Word- of-mouth took care of the rest. Some friends came back for holidays and said: You’re smart. You could have made something of yourself. But every day I renew the world. I take old surfaces and refresh them, put gladness in the hearts of homeowners and neighbors and even people just driving down the street. I don’t trouble myself with ideas. At lunch I sit against an unpainted wall and chew the sandwiches my wife puts together. I scribble notes to myself like this one and sometimes on the ladder, I wonder why I do it.
But then, I forgot my language. Tanks rolled over it. It cannot raise itself like a cartoon character squashed flat. It cannot blow itself back up with a cartoon bicycle pump. I am as mute as if I’ve had a stroke. I am split in two, like my country, for the sake of others’ greed . My country is green and flat and poor. We drink more booze than any people on Earth. We sell our organs for bread.
We killed most of the Jews. The rest of them ran away, the ones who could have helped us. There was one Jew who defeated polio. He lived somewhere in Europe, or maybe in the United States. Jews can do miraculous things, but we killed most of the ones we had, and caused the rest to flee. We killed off a national treasure, and now we are poor and drunk and civil war looms. And I have lost my language, as if I’ve had a stroke.